Today, the government introduced its legislation to drastically reduce the size of civil service redundancy payouts. The bill is expected to be passed in October. The government then plans to exercise powers that would allow the bill to become law immediately, without the normal two-month wait for implementation.
Word on the civil service street is that the government wants to do a deal rather than resort to legislation. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has dropped strong hints that he is prepared to give some ground. The door is therefore open for the unions to negotiate something better than the twelve months pay cap the government is threatening to impose.
But all the noises coming from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) indicate that it will continue its resolute opposition to any change. The union’s leader, Mark Serwotka, was the subject of this Radio 4 profile earlier this week. By all accounts, he is a man of very strong principles and not someone who likes cutting deals. Now I have great admiration for people who stick to their principles but, for those of us involved in the messy business of running organisations, a trade union leader who won’t do deals is no good to anyone.
Mr Serwotka has already been criticised for his hardline stance, especially by other union leaders who think they would have been better off agreeing to Labour’s original proposal. It remains to be seen whether the he holds to his stance or whether the PCS does a deal at the eleventh hour.
The civil service unions have a chance to negotiate better redundancy terms for their members than the one-year salary cap in Francis Maude’s legislation. It will be interesting to see if they take it or opt for kamikaze industrial action instead. Whatever happens, they are unlikely to get as good a deal as the one that the PCS threw back in the last government’s face.